Besieging a castle sounds medieval at best but not when done like this: tents big enough to double as a bedding showroom (beds in tents? When did that happen?) all manner of 21st century comforts (“Wi-Fi my liege?”), wooden swords to see off intruders and a ready supply of mead (well, bottles of Italian red). And especially not when half your army is not yet 12 and are under the spell of Merlin and Horrible Histories. Then it is a lot of fun. What better way to kill a couple of days during the school holidays?
We arrived beneath the ramparts of Warwick Castle to find enough tents pitched by the river to look like an army had arrived. Well, it had – it was an army of journalists with accompanying kids intent on testing the newly-opened glamping facilities to the full.
The historic home of the Earl of Warwick stands on the banks of the Avon, just upstream from Shakespeare’s Stratford and, to be frank, is nearer Coventry than Camelot. But the legend of King Arthur, as told in the BBC series Merlin, is artfully reconstructed within its walls.
Since the last Earl moved out in 1978, the castle has changed hands several times. But these days it is owned by the same people who run Alton Towers and Thorpe Park. And it shows. This is not history as served up by the National Trust or English Heritage: it’s living history with the emphasis on ‘living’ and arguably not a lot of history. But this isn’t a weekend for Simon Schama, it’s the summer holidays and you need to entertain the kids.
With that in mind, forget your textbooks but pack your sense of humour, the more schoolboy the better. Around the castle grounds you can follow a trail of Horrible Histories, tracing the past 1,100 years. Five encampments, from the Measly Middle Ages to the Vile Victorians bring the television series to life – although without the original actors (they’re too busy to make another series let alone do this) your army of nippers will have to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. But of course they like that because, inevitably, it involves something horrid and a lot of use of the word ‘poo’.
You need to be slightly more grown up to enjoy the castle dungeon. The dungeon dates back to 1345 when Warwick was gripped by the plague – and later a feverish fear of witchcraft. It’s certainly seen plenty of dark days, enough for the stories to stack up and crank up a forbidding atmosphere. They say it’s Britain’s scariest attraction, although how you measure scary I don’t know. Having said that, the tour did reduce at least one child within earshot to tears. But that’s why the older ones will love it – pitch black, chanting monks, shuddering benches and ‘blood’ squirted full in the face. Apparently a real ghost of woman tried for witchcraft stalks the corridors and staircases – although I think the spectral hand that touched me on the shoulder had a better knowledge of Coventry’s amateur dramatics’ than the works of Lucifer. Still, the 15-year old was suitably impressed – no easy task these days.
But the family highlight was the flaming trebuchet. Medieval siege weapons may have been smaller than this monster and would no doubt have been loaded without the accompanying soundtrack and roll of the drums, but even the most hardened cynic would be impressed by its capacity to lob a flaming barrel several hundred feet down the river Avon. Truly spectacular – and, we all decided, a feat that required photographing, posting and toasting. So we swiftly retuned to the 21st century, a fully stocked bar and our Wi-Fi rigged tent.
Dining: A cooked or continental breakfast is included with each stay, and there are numerous food options available in the actual grounds. From a waffle and ice cream parlour and hot dog carts, to donut shops and coffee corners. For a sit down feed, there’s the Coach House Restaurant (for hot and cold food), the Undercroft Restaurant (serving carveries) and the Courtyard Grill (for freshly cooked burgers and salads), plus many more.
Price: King tents start from £300 per night, and included a wooden four-poster bed and two wooden single beds, all bed linen and towels, real armour for brave knights to try on and hidden treasure. They sleep two adult and two children. Warwick tents start from £200 per night and include wooden-framed double bed and two wooden singles beds, and all bed linen and sleep two adults and two kids.
Address: Warwick CV34 4QU, visit www.warwick-castle.com/glamping to book
Radio Times Travel Rating: 9/10 Excellent family fun, for fans of history and silliness.